Biological effects of hormone replacement therapy in relation to serum estradiol levels

Horm Res. 2001;56(1-2):38-44. doi: 10.1159/000048088.


Objective: Tissues in various parts of the body have different sensitivities to estradiol. However, it is very difficult to measure the serum estradiol levels precisely in women receiving oral conjugated equine estrogen, which is a mixture of estrogens. In the present study, we precisely measured the serum levels of estradiol in postmenopausal women undergoing hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and we clarified the relationships between serum estradiol levels and the effects of HRT on the Kupperman index, bone mineral density (BMD), serum gonadotropin, lipid metabolism and unscheduled bleeding as the clinical endpoints.

Methods: Sixty-eight postmenopausal or bilaterally ovariectomized women, aged 30-64 years, who had been suffering from vasomotor symptoms such as hot flush or atrophy of the vagina were randomly assigned to two groups: one group of 34 patients who received oral administration of 0.625 mg conjugated equine estrogen (CEE, Premarin, Wyeth) and 2.5 mg medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA, Provera, Upjohn) every other day, and another group of 34 patients who received oral administration of 0.625 mg CEE and 2.5 mg MPA every day. All subjects were re-classified into three groups according to the serum estradiol level after 12 months of treatment: (1) low estradiol group (<15 pg/ml, n = 25); (2) middle estradiol group (> or =15 and <25 pg/ml, n = 27), and (3) high estradiol group (> or =25 pg/ml, n = 16). We examined the relationships between serum estradiol level and the effects of estradiol on the Kupperman index, BMD, serum gonadotropin levels, lipid profile and unscheduled bleeding in these three groups.

Results: RESULTS obtained by using our newly developed high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC)-radioimmunoassay (RIA) system clearly showed that the effects on each tissue in postmenopausal women receiving oral CEE and MPA is closely related to estradiol level. The effects of HRT on BMD, serum gonadotropin levels and lipid profile were shown to be clearly dependent on the serum estradiol levels, while the effect of HRT on the Kupperman index was independent of the serum estradiol level. Furthermore, it was also found that a very low concentration of estradiol (<15 pg/ml) was sufficient to suppress the serum LH and FSH levels and to relieve vasomotor symptoms, and that the minimum concentration of estradiol required to increase BMD was 15 pg/ml. On the other hand, the level of estradiol required to reduce total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C) and apolipoprotein B (Apo B) was found to be more than 25 pg/ml, while the level required to increase high density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C) and apolipoprotein A1 (Apo A1) was at least 15 pg/ml. The incidence of unscheduled bleeding was also lower in the low estradiol group than in the other estradiol level groups.

Conclusion: These results suggest that the different clinical endpoints have different response thresholds and thus reflect tissue sensitivity to estradiol levels achieved by HRT.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bone Density
  • Estradiol / blood*
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy* / adverse effects
  • Estrogens, Conjugated (USP) / administration & dosage
  • Estrogens, Conjugated (USP) / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone / blood
  • Humans
  • Lipids / blood
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / metabolism
  • Luteinizing Hormone / blood
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / administration & dosage
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / therapeutic use
  • Middle Aged
  • Ovariectomy
  • Postmenopause / blood
  • Progesterone Congeners / administration & dosage
  • Progesterone Congeners / therapeutic use
  • Uterine Hemorrhage / etiology


  • Estrogens, Conjugated (USP)
  • Lipids
  • Progesterone Congeners
  • Estradiol
  • Luteinizing Hormone
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate